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Six More In Homes Probe

By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter aturnquest@tribunemedia.net AT LEAST six more people were expected to face charges as a result of the police investigation into allegations of corruption at the Ministry of Housing, The Tribune has learned. Former Housing Minister Kenneth Russell confirmed that the long-awaited probe had been completed, but never made public. The investigation was launched in November 2006 as a result of claims made by contractors and inconsistencies in housing documents uncovered by The Tribune. By mid-2007, the investigation had stalled for the lack of evidence. In 2008, police said the case was still active and that more charges were to be expected. Mr Russell said: "At one stage the police told me they were finished with their investigation, and they were in the position to arrest six more persons for inappropriate actions in the Department of Housing and a couple of contractors who were a part of the ring. "I do not know the details of their findings and I don't know why they have not moved forward with their arrest and prosecutions of persons they intended to arrest and prosecute," Mr Russell said. He said he received updates on the investigation up until then-police commissioner Paul Farquharson was changed. Police inquiries began into the Ministry of Housing, which was then under PLP Minister of Housing Neville Wisdom after The Tribune published allegations by contractors that government employees were engaged in corrupt practices at the expense of poor home buyers. Shoddy workmanship, illicit pay-offs, and rampant favouritism were among accusations lodged against certain contractors and officials. In 2006, housing inspectors were said to be under investigation. The investigation was led by then Police Superintendent Keith Bell. Mr Bell has since resigned from the Police Force. He is an attorney and serves as vice-chairman of the PLP. The stalled pace of investigations came under heavy criticism in 2007 as speculation grew that the report was delayed for political reasons. These claims were denied by Mr Bell. At the nine month mark - retired assistant commissioner Paul Thompson rejected police claims that they were unable to carry on inquiries because no one had come forward with information. In 2008, the officer in charge of the inquiry was Assistant Superintendent Stephen Hinsey, who confirmed that the investigation was still very active. Shortly after being sworn in as the new Minister of Housing and National Insurance, Mr Russell said that Cabinet would make a determination on how to proceed once the report was submitted to the government. At that time, he said that the police should take action if corruption was found. The allegations of unofficial payoffs was one of two separate issues uncovered during The Tribune's series on the Ministry of Housing. The second pointed to discrepancies in the cost of houses between the records produced by the ministry and documents obtained independently by The Tribune. Both investigations, and the claims raised, have yet to be resolved. In an interview with The Tribune before he was terminated from his post last week, Mr Russell said he regretted not going public with the information when he had the chance. "If I had thought it would end up like this, I would have exposed the stuff myself rather than go through the police thing. Mr Russell said: "I would have just said here is the situation - because it was a situation where people were paid double and triple for the same work, all kinds of things."

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